The big rush thru China. Thanx to the obligation to go on an expensive guided tour. From Laos to Mongolia in just 22 days, sightseeing included. Now from Kunming thru Sichuan Province to Xi’An. A visit to the easternmost town of the Silk Road. Then northwards to China’s coal belt. Some 3000km in just a little over 1 week.
Chengdu, 14th June
After 1 lazy day in Kunming – well, washing dirty clothes, diary writing, sorting out pics and some sightseeing – we have to drive on. Our itinerary obliges us.
The next 4 days are mainly dedicated to driving northwards to finally reach Xi’An some 1900km away. Fortunately all on excellent highways.
Today some 500km to Xichang, a whole day’s drive.
The town of Xichang not exactly how you imagine a beauty. The nearby lake an attraction for local tourists. An opportunity for a stroll.
The real attraction in the evening: a Chinese BBQ in a rather rustic restaurant.
The next day further northwards. Another 580km to Chengdu.
Again all on highways thru rural areas. Now crossing some pretty high mountain ranges, thus 100s of bridges, viaducts and tunnels.
Even 2 spirals to gain altitude.
On the way a visit to the world’s largest Buddha in Leshan. A 71m high statue carved into the sandstone cliff at the shores of the confluence of 3 rivers. All this to tame and keep off the dragons living in the rivers. It seems they munched the whole catch the poor fishermen were so keen about. Rumours confirm that the carving of the great Buddha definitely improved the situation.
You climb the hill, then again down on very narrow and steep stairs – all from Buddha’s head to his feet. It’s not really dangerous. You can’t take the wrong direction as the stairs are simply too crowded. And fortunately it’s clearly indicated how to behave.
Once you’re down, you admire the huge Buddha and climb up on the other side of the Buddha. Easy, isn’t it?
On to Chengdu – the capital of Sichuan Province. Not really a small town. Some 25 million inhabitants in Greater Chengdu. So just 4 times the population of Swizzyland squeezed into a few sqkm. We stay in a suburb in the north of the town. In the middle of 1 of these satellite towns, all apartment houses having at least 25 storeys, huge expressways cut into the residential areas – all constructed to optimize the efficiency of everybody living there. A kind of anthill. Nevertheless, quite a lifely center with many enthusiastic dancers on the squares, a lot of restaurants and many opportunities to spend money.
Jens, our guide proposes us a pretty fancy restaurant selling the famous Chengdu Hotpot. Of course the pot is not called so because of temperature. It’s rather the soup in it which is eponymous. A sauce of concentrated red chilly juice, with some whole chillies in it – probably to get it milder. Add some coriander seeds and that’s it. Boil your goat, beef and pork meat in this diabolic sauce, cook it medium and eat it. Wash it down with a lot of beer being fully aware that this doesn’t help you at all. Repeat the ceremony until you feel full.
Xi’An, 16th June
The next day we need to observe some wildlife. A difficult task in Chengdu – except for rats’n’cockroaches. Finally, we visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Whatever the title, they try to multiply Pandas to improve the chances for the last remaining 1s to survive. Of course, at the same time it’s an important tourist attraction.
Definitely Pandas are born to munch and to sleep.
Multiplication seems to be a sideline in Panda’s life. Well, it’s not baby time, just one is currently on the stage.
Finally a look at the Red Pandas – and some tourists trying hard to convert into pandas.
Then we move on to the small town of Guangyuan – just 2,5 million inhabitants. Another 300 km on the highway.
A visit to the 1000 Buddha-Cliff: Qian Fo Ya. Well, probably some 5000 Buddhas carved into a sandstone cliff facing the river. The different sites connected by narrow steel stairs.
We get a nice lady guide, knowing everything about it and wanting to practise her English – all for free.A little strange, on the other side of the river a huge junction of different highways and the ramps of a high-speed railway.
On to Xi’An. The next 450km on the highway.
In the afternoon we arrive. Xi’An – a pretty special town. Here we finally arrive at the very end of the Silk Road.
Just imagine. The whole length of the Silk Road. From our self-defined westernmost starting point in Laufaburg to Xi’An in central China: more than 8000km as the craw flies or more than 40 000km as Prado drives.
We have to explore this famous place. Of course in Xi’An’s Muslim quarter. Only at this place we can imagine how long time ago the silk roadsters arrived completely exhausted in this city after sneaking 1000s of kms from old Constantinople thru the desert of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China’s Taklamakan to finally reach the cosy alleys of Xi’An. The easternmost spot where they can munch a billy-goat skewer optimized with a huge piece of delicious sheep-tail fat or a barbequed sheep foot spiced with lots of chillies.
The last point to slurp a cup of tea before entering the easternmost mosque. Even nowadays still a great place – even if it looks like a Chinese temple.
And of course the easternmost point to admire these beautiful ladies with their headscarfs.
Then they sell all the stuff they transported from the other end of the world: Turkish sweets, Turkish Efes beer, Raki, delicious cotton oil from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan’s famous fat-tail-sheep and many other delicacies.
In exchange they buy all these items Constantinople is so keen to own: cheap CD players, TVs, Huawei smartphones – all this stuff Chinese produce for foreign markets only. They add all these things they find in the Chinese malls. All this merchandise they pack into silk to protect it from all dangers on the way back. Then they load their camels and the silk roadsters are on their way back again.
After having admired the Silk Road trader’s paradise on our way back we discover some really useful stuff. Still hoping to reach the US soon we’re a little concerned to have the perfect gift should the opportunity arise to have a cup of tea or a watery American beer with Uncle Donny. We think we found it. Still we have to think about if he’ll really appreciate it.
To the most famous sight in Xi’An: the terra cotta warriors some 40km east of the town. Another UNESCO Site with a long history. The site definitely organised to receive a few 1000 visitors every day. According to the information we receive we’re lucky to have a quiet day.
Even considering these favourable conditions we’re definitely not alone in the 3 huge hangars.
Impressive all these guys standing there.
We even find a warrior hospital. As far as we understand they’re specialized in cosmetic surgery.
For those really delighted by these guys of course there’s a possibility to convert. Therefore no wonder every day there are a few more hanging around in the hangars.
Supposedly later quite a number of them are used for more important purposes all over China.
Back to Xi’An. A last glimpse of the town outside the Silk Road area …
Pingyao, 18th June
… and we’re on the road again – our guided itinerary obliges. Now on the way thru the Chinese coal belt. The most polluted area of the country, where on many days dense smog avoids all sunlight to be seen.
Another 500km on the highway. Now mainly crossing rather flat countryside. Not much to see. We cross the mighty Yellow River – just a trickle is left over …
… later we bypass the city of Linfen having the doubtful honour of being the world’s most polluted town.
On the way a stop at the Zhangbi Castle.
An ancient village with an interesting tunnel system to fight all kind of enemies active at that time.
Astonishingly a place seeing quite few tourists. So much less kitsch for the visitors …
… but also a place not always easy to understand what they require from you.
In the late afternoon in Pingyao. We find accommodation in a classic Chinese guesthouse. Quite picturesque in the old town.
Pingyao is considered to be the best preserved walled town in China. Even if visited by masses of tourists it’s said to be less converted into a Disneyworld than others. Thus many reasons to explore the place.
To start with we have to buy a ticket. Pretty steep price: 100 Yuan – 15 USD; but valid for 22 top views within the town.
A walk thru some streets a little outside the center largely confirm the rumours. Old houses, of course in need of some maintenance but pretty authentic (according to our view of authentic China).
Then we approach the town center. It gets considerably more colourful, but also the kitsch factor starts to develop to its full potential.
A visit to some of the 22 paying top sites. All a kind of museum. All pretty nice houses of former security services, banks, import-export companies, etc. Nevertheless, life in these places nowadays definitely is missing.
Should you be tired – they even care for that.
Finally the best of all: the beautiful sunset in the old town.
So far Pingyao. Remains the question when it will be fully converted into the Chinese variety of Disneyworld.
Datong, 20th June
We move on. Some 300km northwards to Hunyuan. Still on the highway.
On the way a stopover in Yanmenguan for a 1st glimpse of the great wall. For that reason we have to leave the highway for some 20km. And we’re back to Chinese reality on ordinary roads: the whole length of the way just a queue of trucks.
Yanmenguan Pass a famous outpost of the Chinese Empire against the Mongolian herdboys living in the north. Part of the inner great wall constructed more than 2000 years ago. Unfortunately also recently renovated to a degree which makes it difficult to imagine the rush of these Mongolian migrants.
Probably they were just looking for a job with Chinese fruit growing farmers during harvest time. Maybe a situation similar to the absolute chaos the US experience today at their Mexican border.
Thus Yanmenguan may serve as an excellent model for Uncle Donny’s pledge. Whatever.
A look at the famous Di Li Gate …
… a stroll on the wall to admire the view and we drive on.
A few km further on we find a more authentic piece of the great wall (N 39.21212, E 112.79753). Just on the side of a small village it stretches for many km. Of course not as perfect as the 1 made ready for tourism. But just imagine some 2000 years old. Maybe another hint for politicians with a historic vision. Build a wall and your ungrateful tributaries will even remember you after your lousy term. If you do a good wall building job maybe even for 2000 years.
On to Hunyuan. A small town. Nothing to see, nothing to do, just for a night.
The next morning to the hanging temple . Built high up in a cliff some 1500 years ago still remains an impressive monument of Chineses religions. After the usual ticket buying ceremony, e.g. the opportunity to handle a big amount of Yuan to somebody else, a climb up the cliff.
Passing the entrance gate, steep ladders up, along narrow passages – nothing for persons suffering of vertigo.
We rush on. Some 100km towards Datong – China’s coal capital. Not to admire the black dust covering the suburbs of the town, not to explore the coal transporting trains with their all black wagons nor to get enthusiastic in the coal mining museum.
No, the simple reason is to visit the Yungang Grottoes. A cliff covered with Buddha sculptures and wonderful caves with much more statues. As usual for a prime tourist site it’s over developed and organised with a ticket hall more fancy than the lobby of a 5* Hotel.
Then the short trip to Datong. There we meet Thomas and Kerstin on their way from Germany to Germany with a stopover in Beijing. And that all in an ordinary campervan.
A visit to the old town. A pretty special place. Somehow it was decided that the existing old town does no longer comply with the requirements of Datong city.
Thus what to do? A large renovation programme to replace the old houses by skyscrapers or simply build a wall around this part of the town? No – much better. Simply replace the existing old town by a newly built old town. Easy: just evacuate everybody living in this place, demolish all these rotten old houses, disinfect the whole area and poison all mice’n’rats.
Then build a new old town: Start with a huge underground parking, establish impressive squares and other open spaces, build a lot of shops along the market street, spread a bit everywhere some temples and add numerous houses for living. Of course all in the authentic but slightly simplified style of old Chinese houses. And here we are with Datong’s new old town.
Well, walking thru the area reminds largely to a film set of 1 of these Kung Fu movies. Not much populated, slightly depressing – or simply bizarre. Whatever, we’re there just for a night.
To forget about this strange old-town-world our guide Jens proposes to munch some hotpot in a restaurant outside the new old town. And – what a surprise: an excellent all you-can-eat hotpot for just 30 Yuan. And even the beer is included.
And that’s it for the moment. More adventures in the next post.